Plenty of stories abound across 75 years of The Times’ history as a newspaper, and not just those that appeared on the printed page. Some are worth retelling even if you have heard them already.
For instance, the Gainesville Daily Times’ first home was in a former funeral home, Ward’s at the corner of Maple and Washington, a block off the square. It is said that the funeral home hadn’t quite moved out, and while the paper’s first edition was being prepared, a body was being embalmed.
The late Sylvan Meyer, who became editor after the original editor left for health reasons, made a case early on for open government meetings. Commissioners weren’t used to nosy newspaper reporters covering the people’s business. Meyer was locked out of a city commission meeting, so he began knocking on the door and yelling, “Fire! Fire!” Police restrained him, but from then on local elected officials were less likely to meet in secret.
Lessie Smithgall, late founder of The Times with her husband Charles, wrote a column and helped out in other ways, including trying to sell subscriptions for the fledgling newspaper. In her book, “I Took the Fork,” she recalled, “I made a telephone call for subscriptions, and a lady out in the country said, ‘Yes, I’ve seen that little paper, but I just need more newspaper than that. I use it to wrap things, put on my shelves, and then we use it out in (the outhouse) … ’”
Larry Pardue says he delivered the first Gainesville Daily Times papers that came off the press Jan. 26, 1947. He registered as a carrier, then walked through Gainesville Mill village to sign up subscribers. He sold more than 50 subscriptions to win a $5 prize. Larry would walk his route, and according to policy, place the newspapers behind the mill village homes’ screen doors. He made $12.50 a week.
Johnny Solesbee, who cut his journalistic teeth on The Times, tells of the time when he went to interview a Chestnut Mountain man who owned a dog that trained for service in the Vietnam War. After parking his car, he reached for his notebook and camera, then turned around to find the dog inches from his face. The owner assured the reporter that the dog wouldn’t bite unless he gave it a command.
Solesbee got out of the car, the dog bit off his back pocket and stood with his wallet in its mouth until the owner gave the command to release it. Johnny still got the story.
Crossword puzzle people are passionate about their pastime. If the newspaper failed to print that day’s puzzle, it would hear from a few faithful followers. Phil Hudgins, former city editor of the paper, recalls once when he forgot to place the puzzle in the paper, a reader came into his office and pulled his ear.
The Times never missed printing an issue. Once when the power was off because of an ice storm, newsroom people put together a paper they could run off on an old-fashioned hand-cranked mimeograph machine. Fortunately, the power came back on, and that mimeograph edition didn’t hit the streets.
Another ice storm also cut the power off and threatened to cause a missed edition. The newsroom and advertising departments cobbled together what they could and began to ship pieces of a paper to Athens, where the power was on, and a press was available. The makings of a paper were already in a car headed to Athens when the power came back on in Gainesville, and the newspaper was printed, though a tad tardy.
In 1952, The Times moved to its West Spring Street location, the building presently occupied by Ninth District Opportunity. Shortly thereafter, a fire devastated the newspaper’s production department. Other printers in the community pitched in to put together a paper until repairs and new equipment were put into place.
For many years, The Times didn’t have a Saturday edition. Yet a Mrs. Mays would call the newspaper every Saturday and ask where her Saturday paper was. She didn’t understand why a daily newspaper didn’t deliver a Saturday paper despite careful explanations from whoever answered the phone.
Mrs. Mays would continue to call every Saturday until The Times began publishing a Saturday edition in 1988, and the phone calls stopped.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes weekly.